Thursday, October 11, 2007

Google-ing 'Wine'

Try it. You will notice that the first thing to come up is a web retailer known as wine.com. Just to give you an idea of their business plan, here is an excerpt from their website:

"It starts with our wine list. Our sommeliers scour the globe to be able to present you with thousands of the highest quality wines representing all varietals and regions. A list we're particularly proud of is our 90+ point rated wines for under $20. This brings you the highest rated wines (according to independent wine critics such as Wine Spectator and Robert Parker's Wine Advocate) at affordable prices. Our sales figures tell us our customers appreciate this feature, which can be sorted by popularity based on our sales over the last 30 days, or by price, region or varietal. And for the real connoisseurs out there, we�ve got our list of 94+ point rated wines which can make impressive gifts or additions to your cellar."

You may notice the immediate importance placed on points, especially as it relates to the perceived value of the products wine.com wants to sell. Let me preface my next point by saying that I am opposed to describing wines via any point scale. Nonetheless, I truly think that this way of categorizing and selling wines will come to a gradual end within the next 10-15 years. As wine consumption grows internationally and more of a wine culture develops, peoples' tastes will become increasingly independent and less reliant on professional criticism. Sure, marketing will continue to play a role, as will a growing range of wine criticism. But the amount of influence a select few publications currently hold in the sales of wine is so incredibly disproportionate to other consumable goods. As the wine industry matures, points will become less important, which as far as I'm concerned is a very good thing.

5 comments:

Mateo said...

i disagree - we desperately NEED a points system, for those of us working shmoes who like a good bottle of wine but don't have the time or interest to keep tabs on the latest wine trends, review blogs, read Wine Spectator, etc. it's like saying eliminate the four-star ranking for movies - we need experts to help us focus our spare time on the good stuff.

what other options are there? I could get recommendations from the wine shop guy, who is under the gun to sell certain stuff they bought too much of. of course that assumes I make an extra trip to a wine shop, which I don't do, because I'd rather buy all my wine with the rest of my groceries at trader joe's or safeway and save a trip, so I generally go off those little eight-word pieces of laminated paper they stick to the shelves. otherwise I buy stuff I liked from before, but what if I want to experiment? I need an expert opinion I can trust - hence points.

If anything, I'd simplify the wine scale to five points. It's ridiculous to argue over 91 v. 89.

Mateo said...

another point about how a few trusted orgs hold all the power - it's the same in any industry. look at consumer reports, the new york times book review, ebert & roeper - they can all make the difference between huge sales or not.

web 2.0 is doing a good job of providing an alternate feedback system (a la Yelp) and plenty of books/movies/products have beaten bad reviews. (all the comedy flicks I like get shitty reviews.) But busy people don't have time to look up the best of everything they buy, so they need experts to help them focus their money/time wisely.

of course it's always good to have more centers of judgment (not just wine spectator - it's better to have a group of opinions you can trust), but wine's especially problematic because there are SO MANY wines. it's hard to build an organization that samples all of them - it costs a lot and takes a long time. that's really the underlying problem.

Joe M. said...

I agree, it is ridiculous to argue 89 v 91. 5 points (or, actually, stars) is used by Decanter magazine, and I find it to be somewhat helpful, in the same way that a 5 star review method a la Rolling Stone works for music.

Now to your other points, Matt. Your 'experts' to focus on the good stuff should be YOUR LOCAL WINE SHOP. If you don't have one it should be a destination wine shop and you should load up for a few weeks, a month or whatever works for you. Any good wine shop will not just sell you 'stuff they bought too much of.' If you get that sense, ditch the shop and find another one.

You will very rarely find interesting wines in Safeway because they do not know how to buy wine. Even if they did you would be missing out on all of the terrific wineries who do not make enough wine to supply such a large chain.

Trader Joe's is interesting in that they have many house brands (including imports). Ask anybody really into wine (including the 'experts' who guide the 'schmoes') and they will tell you TJ wines are crap.

The difference betw wine and movies, books, or consumer electronics is that wine is an agricultural product, based on hundreds of years of cultivation, culture and tradition. It is romantic. People are emotionally tied to wines (brands, if you must) that they like. In this sense it is similar to the music business - very highly segmented and catering to multitudes of tastes. The music business has already begun its sea change. Wine will be next. Wine sales will not be dictated by ratings. A few large chains will remain, supermarkets will still carry their crappy selection of wines and achieve varying levels of success, but independent wine merchants will still be able to carve out a niche, because unlike music wine sales are growing.

Mateo said...

the "high-end specialty shop" model will work for wine lovers - but it's way too much work for the casual consumer, and generally more expensive. Local wine shop=local record shop=local bookshop=a beloved but stagnant way to do business.

I actually think an online solution is the way to go; makes it easy for consumers but opens up that wonderful world of wine that you describe, via history lessons, tasting tips, wine recommendation generators, etc.

also, don't be hating on the TJ's until you actually visit one dude! Bet they've got a lot of the same stuff you do...!

Mateo said...

and of course there's a deeper issue here - how do people make decisions about what to buy? - but we can parry that one offline.